What Are the Highest-Paying Jobs in Public Health?

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read
What Are the Highest-Paying Jobs in Public Health?

Are you interested in making a difference in the quality of people's lives? Public health degrees at all levels prepare graduates to pursue professional roles addressing health safety, disparities, and access.

The demand for public health professionals has skyrocketed in recent years in response to mounting concerns about protecting global, environmental, and community health. This guide provides an overview of the top 10 highest-paying public health careers and ways to prepare for these jobs.

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Public Health Career Overview

Public health comprises activities related to protecting and improving the health of individuals, families, and communities. Public health professionals carry out this important work in several ways. They may conduct research and educational initiatives that promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention, identify and respond to natural disasters and global epidemics, and address healthcare inequities and accessibility.

While the growth of public health careers has provided opportunities for individuals from different educational backgrounds, the top-paying careers require candidates to possess four-year degrees. Colleges and universities across the U.S. offer in-person and online public health degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

Many programs offer concentrations in highly specialized areas of public health, such as biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, and global health policy.

A bachelor's in public health can lead to entry-level positions focusing on emergency preparedness, health education, program support, and advocacy. Master's and doctoral degrees prepare graduates for roles in administration, research and statistical analysis, and healthcare policy.

Employers include government agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, nonprofits like the American Red Cross and the World Health Organization, healthcare systems and hospitals, private corporations, and higher education institutions.

Top 10 Highest-Paying Public Health Jobs

The following list of top-paying public health careers provides helpful information about job responsibilities, salary potential, and educational requirements.

Top 10 Highest-Paying Public Health Jobs
Career Average Annual Salary
Emergency Management Director $84,310
Epidemiologist $83,620
Environmental Scientists and Specialist $80,090
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist $78,110
Biostatistician $77,040
Public Health Analyst $68,880
Health Education Specialist $62,120
Public Health Nurse $59,770
Health Coach $48,320
Community Health Worker $46,000
Source: BLS and PayScale

1. Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors develop and carry out disaster responses and crisis management for government agencies, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. As the highest-paid public health professionals, these directors earn an average annual salary of $84,310, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, salary levels vary widely among industries. Managers employed in the professional, scientific, and technical services sectors may earn six-figure salaries.

The field requires at least a bachelor's degree and work experience in emergency response planning, public health, or a related field. Some employers require Certified Emergency Manager, Certified Business Continuity Professional, or equivalent credentials. The BLS projects these positions to grow by 4% from 2019-2029. Rising concerns about disaster response across the U.S. will continue to sustain and drive demand for this career.

2. Epidemiologist

​​Epidemiologists work in laboratories and health departments for governments, hospitals, and universities. They investigate patterns and causes of disease and develop ways to prevent and control negative health outcomes. According to the latest BLS data, these professionals earn an average annual salary of $83,620. Individuals employed directly in scientific research and development earn the highest salaries.

The BLS projects a 5% job growth rate for these professionals from 2019-2029 — faster than the national average for all occupations. Since many public health programs rely on public funding, changes in state and national budget priorities may affect the overall employment outlook for this career.

An epidemiologist must possess a master of public health (MPH) degree. Researchers and professors in higher education typically possess medical or Ph.D. degrees.

3. Environmental Scientists and Specialists

These professionals work with government agencies and industries to develop solutions to environmental hazards. Most environmental scientists and specialists enter their careers after completing bachelor's degrees in environmental science, geosciences, or other related fields.

Many of these professionals earn master's degrees to move into advanced positions with higher compensation. Research and teaching positions may require doctorates in specific natural science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology.

The BLS reports an annual mean salary for these professionals of $80,010 as of May 2020. Because of growing awareness about health and safety dangers stemming from environmental challenges, career opportunities for these scientists and specialists are projected to expand by 8% from 2019-2029.

4. Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Occupational health and safety specialists evaluate work environments, equipment, and procedures to ensure that they adhere to safety standards and government regulations.

These professionals examine all aspects of the workplace, including lighting, ventilation, equipment, and materials that may affect employee health and performance. They then implement processes to address these conditions.

These positions require a bachelor's degree in occupational health and safety or a related field like engineering, chemistry, or biology. Career opportunities will continue to grow as industries adjust to expanding government health and safety regulations. The BLS projects a 4% increase in job growth from 2019-2029, along with a mean annual salary of $78,110 as of May 2020.

5. Biostatistician

Biostatisticians use tools to collect, analyze, and interpret scientific data for public health policy. These positions require a master's or doctoral degree in biostatistics, epidemiology, genetics, biology, or a related field.

According to August 2021 PayScale data, biostatisticians earn an average annual salary of $77,010, while the most experienced may make well over six figures, depending on the specialization.

Public health graduates trained in this field will likely find promising career prospects in the near future. Although the BLS does not provide employment data specifically for biostatisticians, the agency projects a 15% increase in all healthcare occupations from 2019-2029 and a 33% growth in the same period for the overall employment of mathematicians and statisticians.

6. Public Health Analyst

Public health analysts can pursue employment in government agencies, community health centers, research organizations, and nonprofits. Depending on their employer, they may conduct research, collect and communicate information about public health issues, and identify and implement solutions to emerging public health problems.

A public health analyst typically needs a bachelor's degree in public health or healthcare administration. PayScale data indicates a mean salary of $66,880 for public health analysts as of August 2021.

The BLS does not provide job growth projections for public health analysts. However, employment for similar occupations, such as health education specialists and community health workers, is projected to grow much faster than the national average from 2019-2029. As concerns about protecting public health continue to rise, the demand for public health analysts will likely remain promising.

7. Health Education Specialists

The growing demand for health education specialists by government agencies, healthcare facilities, and social service providers reflects the nationwide emphasis on improving healthcare outcomes. Depending on the type of employer, these specialists provide education on treatment options and pursue funding to promote wellness. Health education specialists also develop public health campaigns to address issues such as vaccinations, emergency preparedness, and nutrition.

According to May 2020 BLS data, these specialists earn a mean salary of $62,120, with hospitals and outpatient care centers paying the highest salaries. Projections indicate that overall employment for health educators will grow by 13% from 2019-2029.

A health education specialist typically holds a bachelor's in health education or health promotion. Some employers require graduate training or specialized credentials, such as the Certified Health Education Specialist certification delivered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.

8. Public Health Nurse

A public health nurse must hold a bachelor's degree and fulfill state requirements for registered nurse (RN) licensure. Many of these specialized RNs have obtained the Certified in Public Health credential and later pursue MPH degrees. These nurses do not usually work in traditional hospital or clinical settings but more often in government agencies and community organizations.

They provide services for specific populations by assessing healthcare needs, developing policy, providing education, and delivering direct primary care to at-risk groups.

The demand for public health nurses will continue to grow in response to government initiatives that address wellness education and preventive healthcare. PayScale data indicates that public health nurses earn an annual average salary of $60,010 as of August 2021. BLS projections indicate that RN employment will grow by 7% from 2019-2029, including individuals certified in public health.

9. Health Coach

The expanding emphasis on preventive healthcare across the country has created many new career options. Although the BLS does not provide employment data for health coaches, the projected increase for all healthcare occupations suggests that this career will grow in demand from 2019-2029.

Health coaches work in hospitals and clinics, fitness centers, and specialty healthcare facilities that focus on specific conditions such as diabetes, weight loss, or smoking cessation.

These professionals help people control their overall health, manage chronic conditions, and maintain healthy lifestyles. While many individuals enter this field with associate degrees, healthcare providers may require additional education or certification in nursing, nutrition, or other related fields. According to PayScale, health coaches earn an average base salary of $48,330 as of August 2021.

10. Community Health Worker

Community health worker careers are among the fastest-growing of all healthcare occupations. The BLS projects a 15% increase in employment for these workers from 2019-2029, in response to public and private efforts to improve healthcare quality, outcomes, and costs by expanding services at the local level.

Employed by government agencies and community organizations, these workers identify healthcare needs and serve as advocates for community members with healthcare providers or social service agencies. They often provide informal counseling and conduct outreach programs to educate community members about available resources and services.

According to the BLS, community health workers earn an average annual salary of $46,000 as of May 2020. While many community health workers find jobs with only a high school diploma, some employers require an associate degree, certification, or other approved training programs.

Start Your Career in Public Health

While you can enter many public health positions with an associate or four-year degree, some of the top-paying careers require an MPH, certifications, or advanced training. As you explore education and career opportunities in public health, evaluate your career goals and choose programs that fit your interests and personal needs.

In addition to traditional campus-based programs, online education offers a convenient and flexible pathway to earning public health degrees. Many colleges and universities offer online MPH degrees that prepare graduates for careers in health administration, health education, epidemiology, and environmental health.

While most of these programs take approximately two years to complete, some schools offer accelerated online tracks that take 18 months or less. A degree in public health can provide the foundational knowledge and skills you need to promote quality healthcare and wellness in diverse settings and communities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Health Jobs

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted public health careers?

The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the importance of public health specialists. These professionals have emerged as critical experts and essential workers in understanding how best to combat the virus and protect ourselves.

Is it hard to earn a degree in public health?

An undergraduate public health degree requires coursework in mathematics and the natural sciences, including calculus, statistics, and biology. Enrollees explore healthcare policy, economics, and sociology, along with specific areas like epidemiology, environmental health, and community and global perspectives.

Graduate programs provide in-depth specialized training and preparation for administrative positions.

Where do public health workers work?

Career opportunities in public health continue to grow in the public and private sectors. The most common employers include government, state, and local public health agencies. Nonprofit organizations, healthcare facilities, and higher education also offer strong employment opportunities.

Graduates can also pursue careers in private industries such as insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms or take positions overseas with international health organizations.

What qualities are important for public health workers?

In addition to formal training in public health, public policy, and natural and social sciences, public health workers must develop strong critical thinking and communication skills.

These professionals must become skilled problem-solvers who use research and evidence-based practices while considering how their recommendations will affect diverse communities.

Featured Image: Solskin / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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